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New Start experience? Windows Blue is looking more like Windows Blah

Those still hoping for a Windows 7-styled Start experience for Windows 8.1—a.k.a. Windows Blue—will apparently be disappointed, according to two new reports filed Wednesday.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott both reported that Windows 8.1 does include both a boot-to-desktop option and a Start button, as previously suspected. But the Start button essentially just moves the Start charm from the right-hand portion of the screen, where it's normally hidden, to a more prominent role in the the left-hand, bottom corner of the screen.

Foley did say that users will be able to reorganize the traditional "Metro" Start page, by default, into an "all apps" view, which will veer somewhat closer to the Windows 7 Start experience. And both Thurrott and Foley seem to indicate that both the Desktop as well as the Start screen will be able to share common background images, making the transition from one to the other more natural. (To enable the "All Apps" view within Windows 8, go to the Start screen, type a and click or touch the "all apps" button in the lower right.)

The Start charm in Windows 8.

To recap: To switch from the Desktop to the Start screen under Windows 8, users can do one of two things—find the Start charm by sliding the Charms in from the right-hand portion of the screen, or by pressing the Windows key on the keyboard.

With the changes coming to Windows 8.1, users can also slide their finger or cursor to the bottom left-hand corner and trigger the Start menu as well, via the Start charm that will now live there and be visible by default, according to Foley. Hovering over the Start charm causes the button to change color, with a black background and the accent color used on the flag logo, Thurrott wrote.

Windows Blah?

In all, the alleged UI changes coming in Windows 8.1 don't appear all that spectacular. Microsoft is simply taking elements that already existed within the UI and exposing them to the user: hand-holding between the Start page and the Desktop, for example. Those who disliked Windows 8's schizophrenic interface will still have the same complaints in Windows 8.1.

If Foley's report is true, however, the most substantive change will be the reorganization of the Start menu, exposing all of a user's apps and making them easily accessible. Organizing them by how often they're used, as Foley indicates, would go some way toward making the list of apps more useful.

Windows 8's "All Apps" view.

To Microsoft's credit (or not), boot-to-desktop may be a superfluous feature at this point. Those users who have used Windows 8 can probably figure out to enable the Desktop with just a button click or touch upon booting. But if it's a matter of convenience, I'm all for it. Booting Windows 8 requires swiping away the splash screen, entering a password (if you choose to enable this), then working within the Start screen or jumping right to the Desktop.

According to one developer, Windows 8.1 actually hides a ton of stuff under the hood: possible support for 4K screens, scanner support, better lock screen UI, and so on. But for now, the UI changes in Windows 8.1 sound like little more than just a few tweaks. Will PC buyers wait for Windows 8.1 or pass it over altogether? We'll find out in a few months, when the final version hits the streets. Until then, we'll have to wait for a preview version of OS update to be released at Microsoft BUILD at the end of the month.

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